Monday, June 20, 2011


Red News Readers,

Doug Cameron is not speaking in accordance with Labor Policy here, nor the policy of Labor for Refugees

Jenny Haines

Thousands turn out for World Refugee Day

ABC News, 20.6.11

The World Refugee Day rallies on Sunday saw about 1,000 people protest in Melbourne, another 1,000 in Sydney, 100 in Adelaide and a smaller crowd in Darwin.

In Melbourne, prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside warned Australia will take a huge step backwards if the Government's Malaysia solution goes ahead, while in Darwin, a man being held in detention there jumped the fence to talk to protesters.

The single Iraqi father, who introduced himself as Raheem, carried his young daughter to meet the small group of people gathered outside Darwin's Airport Lodge.

The hotel is used to house asylum seekers who do not fit into the city's overflowing detention centre.

Raheem told the group he suffers insomnia after almost a year in detention.

"Ten months. No mother. Problem for baby. No sleep tonight. Problem," he said.

"What have they done wrong?" he said, referring to children in detention.

'Groundhog Day'

In Melbourne and Sydney, thousands turned out to protest the Government's asylum seeker deal with Malaysia.

The UN refugee agency has criticised the deal that will see 800 asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia transferred to Malaysia for processing. In return, Australian plans to take 4,000 people already granted refugee status in Malaysia.

Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside told Melbourne's World Refugee Day rally that 10 years after the Howard government's children overboard incident, nothing had changed.

"Welcome to Groundhog Day," he told the crowd.

"Here we are at the start of refugee week about to take an enormous step backwards with the Government's idea of the Malaysian solution."

Mr Burnside said the Malaysia solution was worse than the Opposition's alternative to reopen Nauru "only in the sense that garrotting is worse than hanging".

He said anyone who fled war and was forced to live indefinitely in Indonesia without legal access to a job or schools would become desperate enough to make a dash for safety across dangerous seas to Australia.

He said he wanted to ask Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott what they would do in that situation.

"If (Ms Gillard) were in that position, what would she do? What would you do? Wouldn't you want to make a run for safety? Wouldn't you want to get your kids to safety, wouldn't you want to do what it takes to get yourself to safety and make sure you have a life," he asked the rally.

"If you got an honest answer from (Tony Abbott) ... he might say that he'd make a dash for it as well, because Tony Abbott, like all of us, has the human impulse for survival and that's what refugees are all about.

"So why do we have to mistreat the people who do nothing more than what we would do if we were unlucky enough to be in their shoes."

'Playing politics'

Also in Melbourne, Federal Greens MP Adam Bandt tried to turn the tide by harking back to the golden days of Australian immigration.

"What would Carlton be like if we didn't open our arms to refugees? What would Richmond be like," he said.

He told the rally allowing people to live in the community while their asylum claims were processed was the humane, practical and cheap alternative to detention.

"No-one's ever accused me of being an economic rationalist before but what is very clear is that it's also the cheapest alternative when we have a Government spending a billion dollars on offshore processing while we can't find enough money for schools," he said.

Mr Bandt said now was a great time to have a seismic shift in Australian politics and to end mandatory detention once and for all.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the Sydney rally the Federal Government should stop jumping at the ghosts of the former Howard government with its asylum seeker policies.

"Don't simply brush this off as another political fight. It's time that politicians started acting with decency, respect, compassion, spine and stopped playing politics with people's lives," she said.

Labor left

Earlier, Labor Senator Doug Cameron reiterated the party's left faction will only support the Federal Government's proposed asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia if it is backed by the UN's refugee agency.

The Government is still negotiating the terms of the agreement with the Malaysian government and says it is working with the UNHCR to make sure asylum seekers taken to Malaysia are treated humanely.

Senator Cameron says it is vital to get the UNHCR on board.

"What we've said is that any Malaysian agreement must include the UNHCR. They have to sign off on it, it has to be consistent with our international obligations," he told Sky News.

He also dismissed the Opposition's plan to reopen the detention centre on Nauru, which unlike Malaysia is in the process of signing up to the UN convention on refugees.

"Sending people to Nauru, putting them out of sight out of mind for five years until they end up mentally disturbed, is not the way we want to go," he said.